Sandvik Coromant has provided Triumph Motorcycles with tooling and milling recommendations that have cut the company’s production time by hundreds of hours and improved coated insert grades

European automotive manufacturers operate in a highly competitive, cost conscious, global market where expenditure and performance are key concerns. Metal cutting and machining processes represent a substantial part of vehicle production, including engine assemblies and components, as well as body frame parts.

Reducing costs wherever possible is a continual objective and operating a tightly controlled and highly efficient manufacturing process is essential. At the same time manufacturers have to maintain their quality standards, otherwise car and motorcycle makers risk losing reputation, customers and market share.

The cutting solutions, machines, cutting tools, insert grades and tool geometries, manufacturers use to shape and make their metal components and engines may often be ignored but they are essential components in the manufacturing process.

Identifying areas for improvement

For cutting tool manufacturers like Sandvik Coromant, there is a constant push to develop better cutting tools, insert grades and tool geometries that meet customer demand, namely higher productivity, longer effective cutting times and the top performance across the widest range of cutting conditions. A ‘one suits all’ scenario is an unrealistic goal, but tool manufacturers are perhaps getting a little closer.

Crankcases, crankshafts, cylinder heads and camshafts are some of the automotive parts that most benefit from productive machining and metal cutting operations.

Turning and milling are the processes most used in producing crankshafts, for example. If a vehicle manufacturer can increase productivity by spending or investing a little extra on these two processes while maintaining or improving quality, better performance will inevitably result and potentially also deliver cost savings.

It takes detailed analysis and knowledge of a manufacturing plant, its machines and processes to identify areas of improvement. Often specialist help will be needed. Proposed changes to tooling, tool geometry and insert grades have to be tested and thoroughly evaluated through trials in the automotive machining processes before a manufacturer can confidently adopt the proposals.

Cycle times at Triumph

One company that chose to enlist Sandvik Coromant’s expert technicians to help it achieve increased production targets is Triumph Motorcycles. Triumph began making motorcycles in 1902 and now produces more than 40,000 each year. Their range includes 13 different models that are sold in over 25 territories globally, including the USA, Europe and Australia.

Recommendations on tooling given by Sandvik Coromant in 2006 were applied to an operation used to produce Triumph’s two, three and four cylinder crank shafts and saved approximately 200 hours annually, thereby increasing productivity. Another saving resulted from moving to a new milling insert grade, GC1025, which improved the milling operation and shaved over 400 hours from the total annual production time.

“Every growing company is looking at cycle times, downtime and insert life,” comments Joe Brooks, Triumph’s production supervisor. “We are always looking for tools and inserts that can increase productivity…”

In Triumph’s turning operations, a move to Sandvik Coromant’s GC4225 insert grade increased the output per edge from seven crankshafts to 25, a major saving that also delivered a substantial productivity boost. Triumph views Sandvik’s technician, Andy Boffin, almost as part of its production team, so close is the relationship.

“Our relationship with Sandvik Coromant is a partnership”, explains Brooks, “Andy’s knowledge of tooling and processes is a valuable additional resource for Triumph’s production engineering. I can rely on Andy to assess a situation and suggest an effective and prompt solution.”

Sandvik Coromant devotes significant resources to research and development (R&D); most recently, a series of projects has improved several coated insert grades and developed new grades. These target different processes, metals and composites, and all have the objective of producing the best cutting tools and inserts able to compete with, or be, the best available globally.

The GC4225 grade is one of the results of this heavy R&D spend. Triumph uses it to achieve the 25 from seven turning operation improvement mentioned earlier. This is now the world’s largest selling carbide grade. (GC4220, GC1030, GC4230 and GC4235 are other developments that rapidly followed it.) In comparison with GC4025 – its predecessor – extensive tests show that GC4225 offers very high performance, multi-functional steel machining capabilities for any turning operations.

Paul Williams, Sandvik Coromant’s Turning Products Manager, has been heavily involved in the development of GC4225 and the new grades. He explains: “Greatly improved reliability is a key feature, delivering immediate productivity improvements with greatly reduced supervision and the ability to increase metal removal rates in mass machining, high batch operations.

“In mixed production, for low volume machine shops where the emphasis is on greater flexibility, the grade has the capability for mixed production machining with small batches of different components and materials. This capability results in fewer insert changes, reduced downtime and the potential for tool rationalisation.”

Close relationship

Highly performing insert grades are a great advantage, but Sandvik Coromant knows it takes more than inserts and grades to make the grade where complex processes are involved. Expertise, customer experience and informed advice are also crucial ingredients in the mix.

The close association between Sandvik Coromant and its automotive (and other) customers includes regular visits by a designated Sandvik technician to the production plant to advise on new processes or improving existing ones. Coupled with the intensive efforts made in its R&D operation, this continuing relationship makes a unique difference that can deliver productivity, savings and process improvements.

“This partnership, coupled with Sandvik Coromant’s commitment to providing solutions through production based trials, gives them a strong advantage over other tooling suppliers”, acknowledges Brooks. Sandvik Coromant knows that it gains as much from maintaining and investing in its partnerships with manufacturers as they stand to gain from Sandvik Coromant’s interest and involvement in their production processes. If it were not a mutually beneficial relationship, it would not continue.

Sandvik Coromant’s R&D programmes, which include work on the new insert generation developments, are continuing. All development steps in new grades receive thorough testing in the laboratory and in the field with customers in a variety of actual cutting applications.

Teams around the world are working on new developments to extend the company’s knowledge and experience. As at Triumph, there is no time to rest on any laurels. It takes continual and continuous reinvestment and development to maintain a market lead and build a leading edge in insert technology.